by Sylvia Toy 75 views
[I laughed when I first saw this review the morning after the show opened at Lorraine Hansberry Theatre. My husband and the director, as well as my friends were enraged - though a few appreciated my dark sense of humor enough to understand why I laughed. My mother said, "Well, she just didn't know what she was talking about." I do think maybe Ms. Green went a little overboard on this one, but she usually did know what she was talking about.]
February 21, 1994
'CUSTARD PIE' DOESN'T CUT IT: 30-SECOND INCIDENT IS THIN FODDER FOR PERFORMANCE ART
Author: JUDITH GREEN, Mercury News Theater Writer
``INDIGO Lady" persuaded me that Nena St. Louis was a writer to watch. But "Essays on Anger and Custard Pie" proves she's not a performance artist.
Moreover, just as one swallow does not a summer make, one fine piece does not keep a writer immune from cliches, purple patches and inflation -- the tendency of performance art in general to make something out of nothing.
"Custard Pie," which leads the 1994 "Lift Every Voice" festival at the Lorraine Hansberry Theater, makes far too much out of a 30-second incident of sexual harassment in an elevator. St. Louis plays herself, three junior executives and a wealthy client, three secretaries, two street toughs who leer at her and a timid black woman who effaces herself against the paneling.
She also plays the spirit of her feisty great-grandmother, whose custard pie, a remedy for pre-menstrual blues, was a family tradition. (Beating eggs for the custard worked off the tension and eased the cramps.) However, the spirit visits her as the result of a piece of custard pie at lunch, so St. Louis prefaces Grandmother Lilly Griggs' remarks with a belch, which grows more and more unlovely with repetition.
That's the first half, which is tolerable. In the second, a nightmare sequence, all these characters come back and visit.
The elevator incident can't carry the kind of spiritual or social epiphany with which St. Louis burdens it. Besides this, the piece is grossly overwritten and the characters shallow. As an example of both, she calls the junior executives, who won't defend her against the mashers, "the cowardly curs they surely were" -- a lot of bad writing for such a short passage!
The piece has improved (some) since I saw its first draft last fall at the Marsh, and the hand of director Ifa Bayeza is apparent in the staging and, especially, the lighting, which isolates St. Louis in the elevator or her own bedroom, as need be. But the director can't create an actor where there isn't one. St. Louis' mugs and grimaces aren't acting, and her girlish voice hasn't enough color or texture for character.
Nena St. Louis wrote "Essays on Anger and Custard Pie" -- and tries to act it.
by Sylvia Toy 26 views
This video is a dramatic reading of excerpts from my 1990 monologue, "Finding the Gold Thread." Among other themes in this play is the issue of atheism, fundamentalism, and religious freedom of young people whose beliefs conflict with their parents. The family that I grew up in was unusual in that my parents were genius I.Q. intellectual with very old-fashioned, fundamentalist Christian beliefs. They rejected organized religion when I was 14, and we began having church & Bible study in our living room on Sunday mornings. The Bible is a really cool book - I had read it several times through since I was little. But I also had learned about molecules when I was little and starting around age 9, believed that molecules don't need God to hold the Universe together.
If I had children, I would insist that they attend Sunday School or study Catechism classes, or have some other religious education - how could children make up their own minds about religion later if they didn't even have religious education because they had grown up in an atheist household?
I am not a bitter, disestablishmentarian atheist because it was a child's logic that formed my beliefs - it was innocent and organic. I was not ruined or damaged, I don't believe, nearly as much as some people who come to atheism later in life. I think because I am not angry, I was able to inject humor into this play, which even my parents found very amusing - in fact, the first time I performed this monologue, my mother laughed until she cried. That says a lot about how open-minded she had become by the time I was an adult. I hope that I am following in her footsteps.
"Finding the Golden Thread" was performed in the Afro Solo Performance Art Festival, at Mace Space for Art, The Marsh and Brava's Taking Shape Festival, among other venues.
Nena St Louis ©2013.
by Sylvia Toy 9 views
'Performance Art Studies for INDIGO LADY' was screened as an international premiere in KAPAS 2012, European Performative Itinerant Film Festival in August 2012.
by Sylvia Toy 156 views
I am very pleased to share what I hope is a positive & uplifting experience with my online community.
"Schools!" is an autobiographical one-woman show. The primary characters are me and my family, The Hughes H. Shanks & Dr. Lela K. Shanks family. "Schools!" is based on our actual experiences in Kansas City, Kansas during 1960-1964 in the American Civil Rights Movement.
Directed by Ellen Sebastian Chang
"SCHOOLS! ...is an intelligent and humorous look at an African American family's 1962 attempt to integrate a nearby Kansas City white elementary school. SCHOOLS! is an autobiographical-flavored story told from perspective of a bewildered and sensitive 12 year-old. St. Louis is a gifted storyteller, and the show...is an engaging human story of her educated middle-class family's fight with the American system of apartheid. Throughout the performance, St. Louis adeptly moves in and out of numerous characters...SCHOOLS! isn't preachy or didactic...[I]t's a well-moving historical look at one family's struggle, pain and dignity during America's very violent period of integration, performed by a powerhouse actress, artist and writer."
--Portia Anderson, SF Bay Guardian (1998)
"Schools!" is an autobiographical one-woman show. "Schools!" is the intellectual property of its author, Nena St. Louis. The rights to"Schools!" belong to Nena St. Louis, her heirs & assigns. "Schools!" was based on a scrapbook of newspaper clippings collected by Dr. Lela Shanks, Ms. St. Louis' mother, as well as interviews with Dr. Shanks.
In 1997, "Schools!", premiered in the Afro Solo Festival at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco CA. The appeal of "Schools!" led to Ms. St. Louis being invited to perform it in local San Francisco Bay Area schools, which led to a five-year recurring residency at the University of Nebraska. In 2002, the full-length, final version of "Schools!" premiered at the Lincoln Community Playhouse in Lincoln, Nebraska.
During the workshopping of "Schools!", the play was directed by Sharon Walton. Lee Strawn was the vocal coach. Luis Oropeza was the acting coach.The primary dramaturg for the final version of "Schools!" was Ellen Sebastian Chang, who also directed the play for its premiere at the Lincoln Community Playhouse in Lincoln, Nebraska. Art direction and literary coaching were provided by Nena St. Louis' husband, Michael Lewis.
The right to perform "Schools!" Ⓒ2013 is negotiated on a case by case basis.
BIO: Nena St. Louis grew up in Denver, Colorado, Kansas City, Kansas, and Lincoln, Nebraska. She is the daughter of the late Hughes H. Shanks, a leader in the civil rights movement in the Midwestern United States and demographer for local chapter of the Democratic Party, and the late Dr. Lela K. Shanks, a nationally renowned writer, scholar, lecturer, and historian. Nena St. Louis is an actor/filmmaker and retired theater artist, who is the founder of Jump! Theatre Company and who also is a nationally known sculptor, listed in the African American Visual Artist Database. Ms. St. Louis is known internationally as a video artist/filmmaker under the pseudonym, Sylvia Toy, and she is the sole proprietor of Sylviatoyindustries' Kitchen Scenes Studio.
The thumbnail for this movie is from a poster by Michael Lewis.
by Sylvia Toy 10 views
Alan Klasky Never Loved Me
Directed by Roberta D'Alois
"In ALAN KLASKY NEVER LOVED ME, Nena St. Louis traces with anatomic precision the course of a strange -- and doomed -- relationship between a passionate woman and an emotionally inert young man. In an admirably skillful and well-written blend of comedy, pathos, and absurdity, St. Louis re-creates the familiar state of wanting the wrong one -- and the price we pay for going after them. And her performances as the perpetually-grinning title character is as eerie as it is hilarious."
-- Kerry Reid, Chicago-based theater critic and former contributing writer, Back Stage West (1999)
"[Nena St. Louis has] a born storyteller's sense of how to pace her story, how much detail to give us, and when to move on...We fall in love along with her - and when it becomes clear that Klasky loves his art more than he loves St. Louis, we too are disappointed, a feeling enhanced by the way St. Louis spikes the moment with bittersweet comedy."
--Jack Helbig, Chicago Reader (1998)
The rights to "Alan Klasky Never Loved Me" belong to Nena St. Louis, her heirs & assigns.
'Nena St. Louis started hearing voices when she was eight years old, by which time she'd already been coping with depression for five years. ...6
by Sylvia Toy 18 views
Jump Ⓒ 2013
An autobiographical solo performance piece about mental illness.
Directed by Michael Lewis
"Nena is always fun, donning so many characters like one wears a blue or red sock: her employer, her dad, the cool guy who monitors the halls of the art school in New York she escapes from home to attend, not to mention her intimate relationship with this alter-self called Susan, who seems really intent on pushing Nena off tall buildings from bridges, into anything remotely disastrous and deadly. 'Jump!' Susan tells Nena. 'Jump!' If you ever wondered what it means to be psychically split, look no further, Nena conveys this dilemma very well and thank heaven survives to tell us about it." - Wanda Sabir, SF Bayview (2001)
Voice Coach, Lee Strawn. Acting Coach, Luis Oropeza. This play was workshopped at Venue 9 and The Marsh in San Francisco.
"Jump" toured the western United States, including Consolidated Works and the Midnight Sun in Washington State, Exit Cafe and Trade City in California, Commerce Street Warehouse in Houston, and the University of Nebraska. "Jump" received a critic's choice in The Stranger (http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=7390&mode=pr
int). The interpreters at this performance, wonderfully gifted Nancy Brt and Carla Engstrom, were required under Nebraska law in order for the performance to be accessible to hearing impaired mental health clients; it was an amazing experience for which I will always be grateful.
"Jump" is the intellectual property of its author, Nena Sylvia Toy St. Louis. The rights to "Jump" belong to Nena Sylvia Toy St. Louis, her heirs, & assigns.
'Nena St. Louis started hearing voices when she was eight years old, by which time she'd already been coping with depression for five years. ...7
by Sylvia Toy 15 views
Directed by Rebecca Longworth. Starring Sapna Gandhi and Nena St. Louis. Written by Nena St. Louis with dramaturgy by Jump! Theatre Company's Springboard Project. Set design by Rebecca Longworth and Nena St. Louis. Backdrop by Rebecca Longworth & Truc Designs. Produced by Jump! Theatre Company at The Marsh. The rights to the play, DO YOU WANT TO BUY MY BRAIN, were donated by Sylvia Toy, a/k/a Nena St. Louis to Jump! Theatre (Artistic Director, Roberta D'Alois), which published it in 2012. This video is the property of Sylvia Toy, a/k/a Nena St. Louis.
BRAIN originally was a short solo performance piece and was first performed in the Afro Solo festival: "... Nena St. Louis' piece, Do You Want to Buy My Brain? (directed by Kikelomo Adedeji), was a frequently hilarious, often touching portrait of a woman with a personality disorder, her psychiatrist, and her invasive "other" personality, called Susan. St. Louis negotiated this territory carefully and skillfully, and the segment in which she used a long wait for a New York City subway as a chance to relieve the screaming anxiety in her head was explosively funny. Not only did she make the character accessible, she also added a special sheen of don't-mess-with-me spirit that both dignified the woman's difficult life and revealed her humanity. It was a bravura performance, and one of the few I saw at this year's fest that did not rely on generic "black characters" such as preachers or narrow-minded church ladies. ..." - Reviewed by Mari Coates in SF Weekly August 30, 1995.